From March 10th to 20th I am in Uganda visiting friends and missionaries with Next Generation Ministries » see NGM Facebook page. Below is my attempt to summarize the story of Sharon and the care she is receiving. Click any photo to see it enlarged.
Wednesday morning began as planned: run before sunrise, being the bookmobile to deliver a favorite book as a gift to Olivia (more on her soon). It was another gift brought from the States and intended for her one day that on this day proved the key difference.
Olivia is paralyzed from the waist-down after receiving a poorly administered spinal epidural from a student nurse at Jinja Main Hospital. Eddy was born healthy, but since walking in that hospital to deliver her son, Olivia has not felt her legs and feet. As a paraplegic from malpractice without recourse she’s been relegated to a wheelchair. Next Generation Ministries took her in as a daughter and is paying for her medical expenses and a nurse to visit a few times a day to cleanse her sores and nurse her back to health. More on Olivia and her determined hope in Jesus in a future post.
A couple totes of supplies made the trip from home, and a new wheelchair. Nate sent those as a personal gift, a deep embodiment of the motto of NGM as “a river of relationships connecting resources to needs.” While I contemplated riding the wheelchair myself to each plane (and practiced at home with the kids), instead it was checked as luggage. So too were three special foam pads that made the trip in a tote of various supplies. Olivia has not received her new pad yet, but her gift was put to great use for another she hasn’t met either.
It was those pads that became the makeshift transporter bed for Sharon, a girl we met only Wednesday. Her needs were many, but time was of the essence. Yet, as the saying goes, “There is no hurry in Africa.” Everything takes time, that’s just the way it is, and you have to respect the slower pace of life.
Monday afternoon Sharon, nine-years-old, was walking home from school when a boda boda (motorcycle taxi) 1 hit her from the side and ran her legs breaking one, followed by another boda boda that ran over her upper body, breaking both arms. (We can only guess how it all unfolded, as no one stopped to tend to her.) A true hit-and-run, doubled.
Sharon was rushed by friends and family to the free government-run Jinja Main Hospital where on Monday they admitted her in five minutes but neglected to care for her for three days.
As word spread about her injuries, many from their church family visited to offer encouragement, prayer, and whatever funds they had. A young man named Sononi (pronounced Saw-nan), a follower of Jesus, visited the hospital and noticed how none of the staff had cared for her besides doing the admittance paperwork. So he asked what could be done and took her for X-rays. I can only imagine how painful that was for Sharon. At great expense to himself, Sononi bought the pain medication as directed, which we learned was not administered to her in all of the three days she lay there.
It is no exaggeration to say that the conditions of Jinja Main Hospital are the worst I have ever seen, and more deplorable than I could dare to imagine. Known as the pre-cursor to the morgue, this is where one goes to wait to die. And the “deathbedside manner” (as I discovered) shown by the staff and especially the doctors produced a great well of emotion in me.
All of us knew we had to step in, as Sharon’s young bones would attempt to heal themselves, and she had zero chance of recovery waiting for someone to care and do something. Her family is so poor it may have been an upgrade in residences to stay and sleep at the foot of her bed, for at least there were walls an a fan, considering this heatwave at the equator.
We visited on Wednesday, through Sononi’s contact with Chris, Ezra and Peter, and the scene was worse than imaginable.
But we could see a spark of hope arise in the family even those they were getting no communication and even less compassion from the official medical staff there. So Paul led the conversation with the medical staff, empowering the Ugandan nationals (Chris and Peter especially) to enter the conversation. Unfazed, Sharon’s mother Jessica had been praying around the clock, and when we arrived Hellen was there, a dear friend who proved to be a key part of God’s work in this situation.
When confronted by someone seeking the truth we each have a handful of ways to respond, and not many more: we can be humble and honest, or can shift into self-protection mode and either deny, deflect, distract, or minimize. You’ve seen this with kids, with colleagues, and even yourself, I’m sure.
This pattern was clear among the leadership at Jinja Main Hospital. Under-communicate, deflect responsibility, shift blame, and pretend the problem isn’t that bad. If you’ve ever had medical care where the doctor sees you as a number and not as a person, you’ve probably sought different care. That wasn’t an option here for the family. At first my thought was, “We would never settle for this in America.” But then I realized my arrogant elitism (the solution will not come from the outside). The Ugandan people should not settle for this either and we must empower them to fight in healthy ways for change. All people made in His image deserve competent, compassionate care.
When we mzungus 2 walked in they took notice. Mzungus are known to be impatient and demand immediate feedback. Tell it straight and we can trust one another. Mzungus want to know something is being done. Right now.
From this point the various doctors stopped by more often, and tried to assure us they have everything under control: “trust us, just trust us,” was the mantra. Then the next phrase would indicate how this and that was someone else’s fault, or “this is how it is done in Uganda.” So I learned to give a simple feedback loop, that when someone said ten minutes for this, or “I will just take thirty minutes” for something to arrive, I punched the coundtown timer into my smartphone. If we had offered to pay a premium, above the free government health care promised, something may have been done more readily. Even still, it was apparently up for the patient to diagnose herself.
It took three hours of arguing on Thursday to get Sharon’s release. Obligatory paperwork, with her name misspelled, the care given woefully exaggerated. As I mentioned, when two of us Americans arrived on the scene the doctors began to try to impress us with their analysis of the problem, and even started to “care” for the first time. This was especially sad to me, and I asked the lead orthopedic surgeon why he did not value the patient nor the family and merely sought to impress me, a white man. Then I reintroduced my Ugandan friends standing there who apparently were invisible to him, and asked if these men were lesser to him, for I am certainly not greater. He is just as accountable to serve them as he is to answer me, for we are each and all made in God’s image.
The worst part, more damaging than the original injuries, was the apathy of those entrusted to care for her. I am told this is a systemic problem, and all over the country in the government.
But Jesus is not apathetic, and nor are His people. Our Ugandan brothers and sisters fight not with people but against the powers of darkness and a broken system. Paul had done the good work of making further connections to explore medical options, and we prayed that morning to know the path to take. Dr. Mballe, the preeminent orthopedic surgeon in Uganda agreed to do the surgeries in the big city, even at a discount.
Friday I wrote much of this from the International Hospital of Kampala (IHK), where Sharon is receiving the best medical care money can buy in Uganda. (IHK is a private hospital that meets international health standards, is clean and well-staffed; everyone works as a team. We could all learn from this place.)
Her family could never afford it, and I estimate they did not even know it existed, but today Sharon is smiling and preparing for surgery from the top orthopedic surgeon in all the land. All because the family of God were attentive to His leading, and came together to meet her needs. Perhaps there is no hurry in Africa, but there can be a river of relationships connecting resources to needs.
It is vital to know that it wasn’t the mzungus or “white” people who came and instantly remedied this situation. No, it began with their church family here around the villages around Jinja coming together to care for her. They prayed, spoke, shared, and Jesus heard their cry. From there one follower of Jesus made the connection to another, and then to friends with NGM. There are no easy solutions. Truly a river of relationships connecting resources to needs. Everyone’s care together gives opportunity for God to work. One plants, another waters, but God gives the increase.
People back in the US have given this week to the NGM medical fund [via PayPal on the NGM blog here] and Sarah in the States started a GoFundMe page for Sharon’s medical costs, even as no appeal for funds have been made abroad. Even more remarkable is that a local church here in Kampala has stepped up to provide some financial assistance as well. Paul says he hasn’t seen that in a decade here. More vital will be the presence of the people of God providing meals, transportation and ongoing covenant friendship.
Sharon is so brave. Friday we learned today that she has a fractured jaw, totalling six fractures in all, but as you can see, hope and joy sparked by love has come her way.
Surgery has been rescheduled for Saturday morning. (By the time you read this she will be back in recovery.) When we visited her Friday, a warm smile greeted us. A nine-year-old girl is returning to her true self. Sharon was even laughing!
As we left IHK for the long drive back home to Jinja, I noticed someone’s shirt had the saying, “WE TREAT GOD HEALS.” I believe that is how God’s work gets done on the world, and that He still heals today. Sometimes healing comes in the miracle of a moment, sometimes through much endurance, and always through the presence of faithful, prayerful people who refuse to give up or think “God doesn’t do that anymore.”
We must reject apathy and get involved in caring, compassionate, and competent ways with needs near and far.
I believe it has always been His plan to get His people involved in the needs of others, to feel their pain and courageously and generously take on their burdens. That’s what I see people doing here in Uganda. This is helping without hurting, walking alongside people on the journey to wholeness.
Back in the van, Peter drove us home to Jinja while Paul caught up with people on the phone. I laid down on those three special pads on the van floor, and quickly fell asleep. I think Sharon would have laughed if she saw me. The trip back home is long, but there is no hurry in Africa. Get well, new friend. See you Tuesday; your new wheelchair is coming.
“I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in Him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.” —Romans 15:13 (NLT)